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Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare

April 23, 2014

The Bathroom Readers’ Institute is located across town from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, probably the best Bard-based theater outside of England, so it always feels like Shakespeare’s birthday around these parts. Here are some facts about ol’ Bill on his 450th birthday.

  • Happy Birthday Shakespeare FactsToday is Shakespeare’s birthday…probably. No records of his birth survive, but his baptismal records date to April 26, 1564. At the time, babies in England were baptized three days after birth, so April 23rd it is.
  • Words from pop culture routinely enter the common vernacular —”yoink” from The Simpsons, for example. People using made-up words from entertainment dates back, at least, to Shakespeare. The Bard was a master of creating new words whose meanings were instantly understood. Among the staggering 3,000 words Shakespeare created: addiction, gloomy, assassination, eyeball, manager, lonely, majestic, and swagger.
  •  He also, obviously, could turn a phrase. Among the common sayings that first appeared in the works of Shakespeare: “foregone conclusion,” “salad days,” “love is blind,” and “in a pickle.”
  • Most performed Shakespeare plays today: Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Least produced: Pericles and Troilus and Cressida.
  • The average English speaker has a vocabulary of about 10,000 words. Shakespeare’s collected works comprise 31,534 different words. He was so good at picking just the right word that more than 14,000 of those words appear in his plays and poems only once.
  • Shakespeare was just 18 when he married 26-year-old Anne Hathaway…who gave birth to their daughter Susannah six months after the wedding.
  • Shakespeare is why there are starlings in America. In 1890, a man named Eugene Shiffelin decided to import a species of every bird mentioned in Shakespeare that wasn’t native to North America. One of those birds were starlings; Shiffelin released 60 starlings into Central Park in New York City.
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